Tag: Bishops United Against Gun Violence

The Bishop’s Address: There is Already a Revolution Going On

Delegates to the 118th Diocesan Convention

Thank you for all your dedication to Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope. Thank you for the time, effort and love you put into the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it. Thank you. Your work and prayer means so much.

In June I was at the Tri-annual gathering of deacons throughout our country which was being held in Providence. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was there and, as always, he rocked the house with his keynote address. At one point he was talking about St. Paul and how everywhere St. Paul went with the message of Jesus, there was a revolution. The crowd was riveted as Michael brought that revolution of love and resurrection to the present day.

Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry preaching at the Triennial for Deacons

He started shouting out, as only Michael can, to the bishops in the gathering. He would shout out the name of a bishop and say “can you imagine what a revolution would look like in …and then names the bishop’s diocese.” He did this for several bishops –“Bishop- name- can you imagine what a revolution would look like in – name the diocese.” The he gets to me. “Doug, can you imagine what a revolution would look like …wait, there is already a revolution going on in Western Massachusetts.”

When I die, please put that on my tombstone.

Michael never did go on to describe what is revolutionary about Western Mass. That leaves it open to me to speculate what he meant in this convention address.

Could it be the day to day commitment you all make to following Jesus? Could it be the hospital visits, the hours of sermon prep, the choir rehearsals, the bible studies, the pastoral counseling, the millions of prayers you say privately and publically, the loving care of church property, the reaching out to the lonely or hurting neighbor, the generous financial commitments you all make to the mission of the church? Faithfulness in this era is revolutionary. You inspire me.

Here is some other revolutionary activity in Western Mass. This is not an inclusive list. You will see other examples in the videos throughout the day.

In Western Mass, we dare to go where the people are and where the need is. We have chaplains to the Appalachian Trail – because if people are coming from around the world to walk from Georgia to Maine (or some part of it) you know they are searching for something.

We go to the challenged Main South neighborhood in Worcester through our Walking Together ministry – addressing the opioid crisis and addictions through Twelve Step programs, providing counseling and getting people the help they need, which includes a lot of prayer. And, sometimes, it includes saving lives with Narcan.

Our chaplains for the Women’s Correctional facility in Chicopee and to the Worcester House of Corrections fulfill Jesus’ revolutionary statement; when we visit the imprisoned we visit him. And we do that in another way with Reconciliation House in Webster – a facility for men coming out of jail with addiction issues.

Some revolutionary ideas are simple – like gathering veterans for lunch. A number of our churches do that once a week. Together we serve 500 vets every week. Some of those vets are doing fine and they come for the companionship. Others are literally living under bridges. And some suffer from PTSD and Moral Injury. I’m studying both those afflictions and I invite other church leaders to do so as well that we might listen with understanding and compassion. It is where our church is called to be.

There are many other revolutionary ministries that change lives like Lawrence House, outdoor liturgical communities, Laundry Love and others you will hear about in this convention.

But perhaps Michael Curry was referring to the revolution of his Revival with us last year. It was a phenomenal day with our celebrations in Pittsfield and Worcester – marked by inspirational music, witnesses to our faith and of course Michael reminding us that “if it is not about love, it is not about God.”

2018 video captures the spirit of #wmarevival

That revolution was not a one day event. We followed up on that day in many ways with Revival Year 2. And one of the lasting effects of Year 2 is a new spirit of collaboration in our diocese. For Easter Vigil this year, all the churches in the Berkshires got together in Lenox for one glorious service. The Church was packed and we had baptisms and confirmations and receptions. And then in Pittsfield on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, over 100 people from many different parishes gathered to put together 20,000 meals (yes, 20,000 ) for the hungry.

I invite you to consider continuing the revolution of Episcopal churches working together. This is not about mergers or closing churches. It is because we are stronger together. And it is a lot more fun. Christ Church Rochdale, Grace Church Oxford and St. Thomas Auburn are doing this right now. In the last few years the churches in Chicopee, North Grafton and Sutton, Wilbraham, West Springfield, Greenfield and Turners Falls have come together with their neighbors and it all looks like Resurrection.

A great example of this is the Small Church Summit which has had two very successful meetings of devoted followers of Jesus who have come together to share the challenges and opportunities of being small churches.

As a sign of my commitment to collaboration, how about this idea? For any neighboring parishes that want to do this, I volunteer to walk from one parish to another, ending with Evening Prayer, a meal and a discussion as to how those two parishes can work together. After all, you are in walking distance of each other!

Another collaboration that came out of revival is our Pilgrimage Project. Members of our Diocesan Council called every church in WMA and asked them about a ministry they are particularly good at. They range from food pantries to farmer’s markets to Celtic liturgies and many others. If your parish is considering a new ministry and want to know how to do it, you are invited to a Pilgrimage to one of the parishes that is already doing it. It is part of an ancient tradition – go to a holy place and grow in mission and spiritual depth. Those holy places are right here in revolutionary WMA. You will hear more about this in the next issue of our diocesan magazine.

I’m excited to announce here that Bishop Mark Beckwith is our new Missioner for Spirituality and Leadership. Mark brings great gifts to our diocese. He is spending time in our congregations, preaching and teaching.

The Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith
Photo: Diocese of Newark

This is all part of a big commitment we all have to parish renewal. In past Convention Addresses, I have invited us to “double down” on social justice, and to “double down on prayer.” Let’s add to that “double down on parish renewal. We have a whole range of ways to make this happen. Already 10 of our parishes have done Renewal Works, 5 are enrolled in the College for Congregational Development. One is doing Natural Church Development. 7 parishes are working with Peter Swarr and Sue Schneider in “Explorations into Christian Leadership.” And we have 11 coaches to work with parishes leaders to fulfill our hopes and dreams for the holy mission Jesus has given us. If you want to know more about any of these programs see Pam Mott. Yes, let’s double down on parish renewal.

Let’s collaborate with Episcopal Churches and with the Lutherans, Congregationalists, Methodists and anyone else that wants to share prayer and mission. Recently I was at a meeting with other “heads of churches” brought together by the Mass Council of Churches.

Heads of denominations gathered by the Massachusetts Council of Churches

We told stories of parishes working together across denominational lines. One example is that this year we are merging our popular Leadership Day with the UCC’s “Super Saturday” where there will be dozens of workshops that can be helpful to any UCC and Episcopal church and there will be a few particular to our Episcopal Church. When so much in our world is coming apart, we are coming together.

Michael Curry has given us a clear definition of the Church. I mentioned it earlier. “We are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many, into the Dream God has for us.” Could our humble efforts at that be what he means by revolutionary?”

Religious scholar Thomas Cahill has written several books about key moments in the history of Western Civilization and how different communities contributed. He wrote The Hinges of History series, and The Gifts of the Jews. Twenty-five years ago he wrote, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. He tells the stories of how monks formed communities of peace and prayer, with farms to feed the poor displaced by the many wars. Monks spent their lives copying the bible by hand to preserve God’s word for future generations. Without the efforts of the Church, what was known as the “Dark Ages” might never have ended.

The Church responded to the needs of the time. We have not always. When the General Convention of the Episcopal Church met in 1860, they said nothing about slavery or the impending Civil War.

We now have another “hinge of history” moment. We face a climate change crisis. And as the monks saved Western Civilization, it is our challenge to save the earth. Listen to the words of our Michael Curry and Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and Archbishop Jackelén, head of the Church of Sweden:

“…the link of unprecedented climate change to human action rests now on insurmountable scientific evidence. In human societies, these climate changes compound social injustices, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable among us. Yet the burdens are not borne by humans alone: acceleration in the disappearance of species of plants and animals underlies the intertwined struggles of all life on Earth, and the destructive exploitation of resources leaves a diminished planet for all time to come.”

A Call to Join in the Care of Creation From
The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Church of Sweden (Lutheran)

These religious leaders go on to say, “We claim the deep resources of our Christian faith to meet this challenge. We worship a God who created all that exists, who rejoices in its flourishing and blesses its diversity.”

They issued a call to action which involves: advocacy, education, prayer and collaboration. That sounds like the work that our Margaret Bullitt-Jonas has been doing for so long.

The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas giving a workshop on the spirituality of creation care

Now I invite us to make a commitment to joining her in this earth saving work. One way to do that is for all our clergy and lay preachers to make a commitment to preach about creation care.  And to do so in the spirit of Michael Curry who says, “We acknowledge the dire urgency of this moment not through the lenses of despair, but through lenses of hope and determination.” We will be providing resources on how to do this.

We have a public health crisis of gun violence in our country. Over 100 people a day die from gun violence in our beloved USA. Our diocese is acknowledged by the network called Bishops United Against Gun Violence as a leader in this cause.

Bishops Beckwith, Fisher and Gates standing with youth at Smith & Wesson corporate headquarters in Springfield, MA

One of The Episcopal Church’s top priorities is racial reconciliation. Our Beloved Community Committee is working hard at education about white privilege. Several of our churches had services marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African slaves in our country. They came from Ghana where we have a companion relationship. Friends, we have a long way to go in this work before we can be anywhere near revolutionary, but we are committed.

And we have a long way to go in being revolutionary in standing with immigrants and refugees – check all the references in the Bible about “welcoming the stranger” for why we do this. A shout out to Grace, Amherst for their embrace of a refugee family and for their support of the Congregational Church as they provide sanctuary for Lucio Perez, a father of four who has worked and paid taxes here for over 20 years. I went to the ICE offices with several UCC ministers and a rabbi to advocate for him. Thank you to our many churches that have signs saying “immigrants are welcome here.”

The mission before us is daunting which is why we need prayer and one another. Rachel Held Evans, a wonderful young Episcopal writer who died all too soon this past year, writes “The only way to work for justice in a sustainable way is to be rooted in the nourishing soul of contemplation and community.”

When we do that, really do that, we recognize God’s presence among us. And here I want to thank our brothers and sisters who tell me I am too political. They tell me we should be about saving souls. In my heart I believe this work IS about saving souls. But I do thank you for faithfully calling us to a life of prayer. If we lose our center in Christ, our work for creation, addressing gun violence, welcoming immigrants and refugees, promoting racial reconciliation becomes about power instead of following Jesus who has merged loving God and loving neighbor.

A few weeks ago a video about a boy anxious about school and what his parents did about it went viral. They dressed him up as a different super hero every day.

@ Ke and Lo Toys and Trips

I think St. Paul would like that video because he had a similar idea. He told the early Christians to “put on Christ.”

Galatians 3:27 “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Ephesians 6:10 “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God.”

Romans 13:14 “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”

And 75 times we are told we are “in Christ.”

Prayer, deep, sincere prayer leads to a resurrected life. We know this from theologian Bruce Springsteen. You knew I was going to get Springsteen into this address somewhere. In “My City in Ruins” he sings:

Now with these hands, with these hands, with these hands, I pray Lord.

I pray for the strength Lord.

I pray for the faith Lord.

I pray for your love Lord.

I pray for the strength Lord.

I pray for your Love Lord.

And then he sings “Come on, Rise Up.” Eleven times. “Come on, Rise up.”

You see, praying leads to resurrection – for our souls, for our society, for God’s creation.

My spiritual director often says to me “Doug, you are capable of more than you think you are.” And I say to all of us in the revolutionary diocese of Western Massachusetts – “We are capable of more than we think we are.” And if you don’t believe my spiritual director, believe Saint Paul, who in his second letter to Timothy wrote, “We have not been given a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love and power.”

We say that every time we pray Evening Prayer. It’s 9 am but let’s pray these words.

“Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever.”

AMEN.

The Body of Christ is bleeding.

Homily at the September Requiem for Those Who Died By Gun Violence

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

When you gathered in June, (I believe it was the first of these monthly Requiems for victims of gun violence), you spoke the name of Meaghan Burns in this sacred place. She is one of Western Massachusetts’ own. I confirmed her five years ago at St. James in Greenfield. She went on to serve her country in the Navy. She was stationed in Virginia. On the night of her death she went out to dinner with another sailor who had recently broken up with her boyfriend. As they left the restaurant, the ex-boyfriend shot them both dead and then turned the weapon on himself.

Friends, the Body of Christ is bleeding. The public health crisis of gun violence is exactly that – a crisis. A clear and present crisis. It is not far away. It is here. And it demands a response on so many fronts. Including that of faith communities. Bruce Springsteen has a song about gun violence called “Forty One Shots.” One of the lyrics is, 

“We are baptized in these waters and in each other’s blood.”

The Body of Christ is bleeding. In a few minutes we will say the names of 1000 of the more than 3000 people who died last month in gun violence in our United States. As we do it, we are doing what faithful women did 2000 years ago at the cross of Jesus. They were going there in sorrow, to bear a witness of love to the one who was dying.

In one of those gospel accounts about the women at the Cross, there is a man with them -the one called the beloved disciple. With his dying breath, Jesus says to Mary, his mother, “Behold your son.” To the beloved disciple he says, “Behold your mother.”

When Jesus does that, he unites all of humanity in the blood of the Cross. We are truly brother and sister to each other. When we say these names, we are naming our brothers and sisters. We are baptized in these waters and in each other’s blood.

And what happened after they went to the cross and after they went to the tomb? What happened after they spoke the name of the dead? The dead one appeared to them and they launched the greatest mission of mercy, compassion and hope that the world had ever seen. Their baptism in the water and the blood inspired multitudes to say that the world cannot stay the same. They refused to say, ‘it is what it is.” The world holds the possibilities of transformation, of new life, and of a new way of being. Or as the royal wedding preacher Michael Curry  constantly reminds us, “if it is not about Love, it is not about God.”

I have a wonderful spiritual director. Sometimes I go to her feeling discouraged. And she says to me “you are capable of more than you think you are.”

Photo: M. Tuck

Now we say the names of the victims of the public health crisis of gun violence aloud. We go to the place of the dead. We acknowledge them as our brothers and sisters. We state clearly that the Body of Christ is bleeding. And that we are baptized in these waters and in each other’s blood. And perhaps we will hear the dead whispering back to us. “You are capable of more than you think you are.”

Amen.

+Doug

For those interested in doing a similar service, click here to request an updated list of names each month. 

God bless these journalists. God bless all journalists.

I don’t write every time there is a mass shooting in our beloved country. I do pray every time there is one (about once a week) and I pray daily for the 95 Americans a day killed in the public health crisis of gun violence. And, with you, I take part in witness events – like those organized by our youth at Smith & Wesson. I contact politicians locally and nationally pleading for gun safety laws, and engage in socially responsible investing for our Episcopal Church to buy stock in gun companies to gain influence in stockholder meetings.

But I am writing today about the most recent mass shooting at the offices of the Capital Gazette Newspaper in Annapolis. Five people dead. Two wounded. Threats made on social media in advance of this horror. On February 20 of this year, we held a “Blessing of Journalists” at our Cathedral. It touched the soul of bishops and church leaders throughout the country who will be offering it the future. In that liturgy we acknowledged the great blessing that journalists are to us.

We pray, in this changing era of journalism, for those from the various forms of media who fulfill the sacred trust of reporting on the lives and events of this world.

We acknowledged how crucial they are to democracy.

“If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free AND many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid we would lose much of our individual liberties overtime.” Sen. John McCain

And we prayed for journalists who are in physical danger throughout the world.

We remember especially those who are pressured by their government, those who are threatened and silenced, those who are put in harm’s way by their work, and those who have lost their lives throughout the world reporting on the news.

Physical danger to journalists has now struck close to home. It is not state sponsored. It is by no means government sanctioned. But our government bears the responsibility for our gun laws, and our government officials bear responsibility for the way in which they refer to the work of journalists as, “fake news.”

We pray for the dead and the wounded. We pray for the grieving families. We pray and we continue act for policies that address the public health crisis of gun violence. And we call for the end of tweets and speeches from the highest office in this land condemning journalists and demeaning their work – work that often places their lives in jeopardy.

Jesus gave us a Spirit that guides us in his mission of mercy, compassion and hope. It is also a Spirit of courage and prophetic power. May we have the courage to let Jesus’ mission guide our lives completely. If not now, then when?

+Doug

After Chicago: Reflections on Racism, Poverty & Violence

The week after Easter four of us from the WMA Social Justice Commission went to Chicago to an event organized by Bishops United Against Gun Violence. It was a gathering to study the “Unholy Trinity” of racism, poverty and gun violence. My friends will share their reflections and wisdom from those remarkable days here in this blog. I’ll save my thoughts for the last.

Alexizendria Link

I left the conference with a spiritual understanding that garnered the urgency for Church reflection, movement and support for action against injustice in society.  A call for Christians to return to moral leadership and service by partnering with oppressed communities rather than serving ourselves within church communities was highlighted.

The Rev. Julian DeShazier, adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School and McCormick Theological Seminary and University Church senior pastor reminded us poverty, racism and gun violence are moral issues and the church needs to be a moral voice. He says,

“We have turned our churches into think tanks but not action centers and consider our pastors as theologians rather than community leaders.”

He reminded us the church once represented a moral center in the community and as a result provided a moral compass in our cities and towns.  Now it appears as if the church has shifted to primarily condemning.  The Church condemns racism, injustice, poverty, gun violence, climate issues and etc. but rarely are we physically doing anything in and with oppressed communities.

I believe we need to intellectually revisit, spiritually reflect and physically return to moral leadership while partnering with communities outside our church walls.

Jane G. Tillman

Attending the conference “The Unholy Trinity:  The Intersection of Racism, Poverty, and Gun Violence” in Chicago was an amazing experience of listening, learning, singing, praying, weeping, and marching.  The conference included three contextual bible study sessions which began in a large group led by Dr. Dora Mbuwayesango, a professor of Old Testament and Languages at Hood Theological Seminary.  We then went to small groups each day, to study a selected biblical text, trying to understand the characters in the story, the relationship of the characters to one another and to God, and the role of violence and conflict in the story of God’s people.  Moving from understanding the biblical text within an historical framework, we then explored how the ancient story of God’s people is like the pain we face in our current time with intergroup conflict, violence, murder, child sacrifice, political scheming, and the ongoing sin of racism, violence, and poverty.

The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, Bishop Diocesan of Indianapolis, speaking at the public witness of prayer. Photo: Lee Cheek

I felt fortunate that the facilitator of my bible study group was the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, an African-American-Indian priest, who was attending the conference the week before her ordination and consecration as the Bishop of Indianapolis and the first African American woman to be a diocesan bishop.  There were moments of deep sadness as well, such has when the Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton announced that the State of Arkansas would execute one of their prisoners that first evening of the conference.  The death penalty is where racism, poverty, gun violence, and state-sanctioned murder all intersect and this was a powerful moment for me.

Lee Cheek

Two common narratives about guns emerged: (1) gun violence is mainly a problem with blacks (2) unrestricted white gun ownership and “stand your ground “is God-ordained.  We were called to challenge these narratives from a faith-based perspective.

The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas. Photo: Lee Cheek

The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, canon theologian for the Diocese of Maryland, challenged a mostly white church to give up resting in the comfort of believing that the problem of gun violence lies only within the black urban community. She asked us to get to know their stories and see their humanity. The violence there is a legacy of a system of unjust privilege and penalty.  The inequalities of racism and poverty are something each of us is on the hook for.  Eliminating these systems is “not a work of choice for us but what is necessary to be Christian.”

The Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical pastor from Washington, D.C., who was featured in the 2015 documentary, The Armour of Light, declared that unrestricted white gun ownership and violence against what is perceived as threat is “a theological problem” with which many evangelicals struggle. He urged us to build relationships that help them disentangle their theology from the culture of “ferocious autonomy” and individualism.

Lee Cheek, Alexizendria Link and Jane G. Tillman. PHOTO: J.G. Tillman

My thoughts on the “Unholy Trinity” event…

For me, the quote I will remember most came from Rev. Julian DeShazier, pastor at University Chapel and a hip hop artist. He said, “Too many Christian churches have become ‘think tanks’ when they should be ‘action centers’.” I’m challenged and inspired by that line.

Part of being an “action center” is to take our faith to the streets in liturgies of witness. I have shared many times in this blog and in Abundant TIMES about the value and indeed, the necessity of public prayer witness. These are not demonstrations. They are not marches. They are prayer. They are processions. As one speaker put it: “We impoverish ourselves if we limit our symbols and sacraments to just what is possible in the walls of the church.” Liturgy is a strength of the Episcopal Church, so why not take that gift and bring it to the streets? We did that in Chicago.

Photo: Bishop Ian Douglas

Two hundred of us processed through a section of Chicago’s South Side. Drums loudly announced our presence. Bishops wore vestments. Dozens of crosses were carried high.  Banners clearly stated why we were doing this. We sang hymns. We chanted.

People joined us along the way. Some stood and watched. Many took out their cell phones and recorded it. Why? Because the Church was in the streets. We were not a think tank. We were a moving “action center”, witnessing against the Unholy Trinity and witnessing for Jesus mission of mercy, compassion and hope.

+Doug

More death. More words. And no action.

A Statement on the Mass Shooting in Orlando

They lurk in ambush in public squares

and in secret places they murder the innocent;

they spy out the helpless.

Psalm 10:8

I write to you again in response to yet another mass shooting in America. Elementary schools, high schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, office buildings, churches and gay bars. No place is safe. No one is safe. Not as long as assault weapons are legally available to the one who hates, to the one who is ill, or to the one who wants to bring terror.

More death.  More words. And no action.

The public health crisis that is gun violence just claimed 50 more lives. Add this to the 91 per day that die in the United States through gun violence. Just ten days ago Bishops United Against Gun Violence co-sponsored the #WearOrange campaign. Episcopalians all over the country wore orange and took over social media for the entire day. When will we wake up? When will our elected officials show some courage? In the wake of the slaughter and wounding of 100 LGBTQ people in Orlando, we must acknowledge that homophobia and racism are also at the heart of our dis-ease.

They say in their heart, ‘God has forgotten; he hides his face; he will never notice (Psalm 10:11).’ But God sees. God needs us to break the cycle of fear, hatred and scapegoating with a love that defies the darkness. Yes, our laws must change. Our elected leaders must bear responsibility for the state of gun safety legislation. But we must speak love to those who mourn, to those feeling a wave of justifiable anger. In time and with grace, we must speak love even to the one who brings death.

AFP_BS7I5

Our hearts are broken for Orlando and for LGBTQ people who are absorbing the reality of this violence. Our love surrounds all who bear the weight of this tragedy.

Rise up, O Lord;

Lift up your hand, O God;

Do not forget the afflicted.

Psalm 10:12

+ Doug

The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher

IX Bishop of Western Massachusetts